Think back to your favourite game of all time. It might not necessarily be the greatest ever made, but it’s the one you have the fondest memories of playing. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to play it on a current console, but the state of games preservation is such that it may well be completely inaccessible to you.
While evergreen titles like Super Mario World and Skyrim have been ported and remastered on countless platforms, massive hits like GoldenEye 007 and Metal Gear Solid 4 remain trapped on their original hardware, to say nothing of the many smaller games that have been lost to time along the way. If we can’t even rely on gaming’s crown jewels to remain accessible to modern players, what will become of its hidden gems?
Enter Cotton 100%, a 1994 side-scrolling shooter for the Super Nintendo that has never been officially released outside of Japan until now. With the release of Cotton 100% and other entries in the Cotton series on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, publishers ININ Games and Strictly Limited Games are making this critically well-regarded game easier to access and bringing it to an international audience for the very first time.
The game stars a young witch named Cotton, who teams up with a fairy named Silk in a quest for her favourite Willow candy. You won’t really glean any more of the narrative than that unless you speak Japanese; the dialogue text between levels hasn’t been translated into English for this release, leaving players who want a better idea of what’s going on somewhat in the dark. Cotton is a winning protagonist nonetheless, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the titular character of Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved animated film Kiki’s Delivery Service, a probable nod to one of the game’s influences.
A self-described ‘cute ‘em up’, you’ll shoot your way from left to right through colourful environments as you battle flying cherubs, doe-eyed clouds, and other adorable baddies. Don’t be fooled by the sugary aesthetic, though; Cotton 100% can at times be deceptively challenging. Though enemies can be killed with one hit and aren’t particularly formidable by themselves, they can quickly fill up the screen and become quite overwhelming. You’ll need to bob and weave on your flying broomstick to carefully navigate around your foes to avoid falling into their cutesy clutches.
Cotton has a collection of magic powers at her disposal to blast away enemies, with the game allowing you to choose from four slightly different sets of abilities when you begin. I found myself relying heavily on the standard projectile attack, which can be fired as rapidly as you can mash the Y button and has a more predictable trajectory than Cotton’s throwable bombs. Special attacks like blasts of fire or devastating bursts of lightning make short work of foes but you’re limited in how often you can use them. You can charge up these powers by collecting gems from fallen enemies, and upgrade your firepower by rescuing small pixie characters, but none of this does much to make the core gameplay of flying around and shooting monsters feel more complex.
This lack of variation also extends to the bosses you’ll face at the midpoint and end of the game’s seven (extremely short) levels. These characters are inventive in their design, with an anthropomorphic Great Oak, a giant levitating doll, and a grumpy snowman wielding a baseball bat all oozing personality. However, you’ll defeat them much how you do regular enemies: by firing your magic powers directly at them, while maybe dodging a few extra environmental obstacles. These boss encounters feel like a missed opportunity to change up the routine and force you to take a different approach to each one, rather than just presenting sponges to soak up your magic.
Take damage three times and you’ll need to spend a credit to continue playing. Use up the three continue credits you began with and you’ll need to start the entire game from the beginning. Games have generally become far more forgiving since Cotton 100%’s original release, and so several features have been added to help smooth out the experience for newer players. A rewind function lets you to travel back in time to the moment before you met a fatal blow, and you can create a save at any point to return to if you die. Purists who wish to play the game in its original form can select a Challenge Mode, which eschews these conveniences while offering cheats for infinite health and ammo as a reward for completing the game the old-fashioned way.
Graphics & Audio
If you’ve played essentially any other 2D shooter game, Cotton 100% will probably feel extremely familiar, but its presentation is quite lovely nonetheless. Cotton’s journey takes her through lush woods and mountain peaks to lava-filled volcanoes and ornate castles, with beautifully animated trees blowing in the wind and currents tugging gently at you in underwater stages. In fact, the game’s beauty is something of a double edged sword; the screen can become so busy with detailed backgrounds and animated effects that it can become difficult to see enemy projectiles until it’s too late. However unfairly the game kills you, though, it looks consistently gorgeous even through its optional CRT filter, replicating the look of a mid 90s TV.
Cotton 100% also sounds fantastic, establishing its tone immediately by blaring a raucous synth rendition of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ when you reach the title screen. A cheerful, uptempo musical score throbs in the background as you play, with satisfying bleeps and bloops accompanying your every attack.
It’s worth noting that while the game runs smoothly for the most part, I did experience a few noticeable frame rate drops while playing the game on a docked Switch. This is a bit disappointing considering how much more powerful contemporary consoles are than the game’s original hardware. Anyone with epilepsy should also proceed with caution as Cotton’s lightning attack causes the screen to rapidly flash bright white, which could obviously have an adverse effect.
Cotton 100%’s gameplay may not do too much to distinguish itself from other shooters of its era, but its audiovisual presentation and charismatic hero make for a charming trifle of a game that can be enjoyed in a single sitting. More to the point, it’s no bad thing to make more games widely available. Maybe this is that special game for someone out there, the game they warmly remember playing in their childhood bedroom that they can now finally experience again. For the rest of us, Cotton 100% provides an hour or two of breezy fun and a glimpse into a series that has been overlooked.